Marriage And Early Motherhood, Part II

What if we said, "I'm a good mom, because..."?

Cage Match: My Thighs vs. Awesome Baby

Maddie: Ok, I just want to throw a few words out there and have you respond to them. I want to hear you talk about vanity. Because I feel like there is a lot that goes into, just, body stuff.

Meg: I think people are kind of ashamed to say that they have issues around vanity. And I mean, I think humans do. I don’t even think that’s something just women do. I gained more than forty percent of my body weight during pregnancy, and I was not made to feel awesome about that by the medical establishment. I did not do anything funny; that’s just what my body wanted to put on. I then turned around and it is almost all gone, I have a four-month-old, and I have not spent an inordinate amount of time at the gym. In fact, I could not go to the gym until week twelve because of medical stuff. So, my point there is not that you should be required to lose all of your pregnancy weight. If you can’t breastfeed, for example, it’s just going to take a long time. My point is the human body is way more resilient than we’re led to believe.

That said, there are parts of your body that will never be the same. There are things that’ll never be the same, but I hear people talking about it like that’s a reason to stop themselves from having kids if they otherwise want to. My problem with that is not the vanity, because you’re allowed the vanity. My problem with that is that shit’s going to happen anyway because you’re going to get older. So if you want to have kids, the idea that you would, like, worry that your boobs aren’t gonna look as awesome? Newsflash, your boobs are not going to look as awesome. That train has already left the station. So, there are parts of your body that will never look the same, though for me it hasn’t been terrifically extreme. I don’t want to say this in a minimizing your fears kind of way, but it literally is like, I look at my thighs and think, “I have a lot of stretch marks,” and then I look at my baby and think, “There is a new human being who lives here who is awesome.” I’m not saying I don’t have huge amounts of vanity like everybody else, but you can’t even compare. I’m like, “My thighs vs. awesome baby? Whatever, I’m going to buy a different swimsuit this year. Moving on.”

Everything Will Change…Right?

Maddie: Okay, so the other word. Motherhood and identity and all that goes with it. Motherhood and identity. I feel like you have a lot to say about motherhood, so I’m not even going to ask you a question.

Meg: Not everyone shares my opinion on this, but I do not feel like I have a new identity. At all. Period. The interesting thing about this is there are a lot of very smart women in my life who I’m very close to and respect a ton who have really felt like motherhood sort of internally rebuilt them. And I do not feel like that. I feel like I am exactly the person I was before I had the baby. I just now have a baby and in a lot of ways—and I don’t mean this in an everyone should have a baby sort of way at all—but the change for me is that I feel like I have a richer and deeper interior life than I did. I would say that I’m happier than I was, but you know, my interests are not any different. And my identity is not any different. And if I can say that now, when I am still deeply in the thrall of hormones, then that is a pretty radical thing to say. Because I think often your identity really shifts when you’re in the thrall of the hormones, and then by the time you’re the parent of a twelve-year-old, you’re not—I have friends who are parents of twelve-year-olds because, again, people we know got pregnant right after high school—by the time you kid is thirteen, you’re not like, “My identity revolves around my teenager.” But I didn’t even really experience that in the short term. Your mileage may vary, however.

Maddie: What about the flipside? Maybe it’s because, I dunno, I’m a couple years behind, or because of where I lived, or whatever, but on the flip side, I feel this extreme pressure to, if we do have a kid one day, to make it sort of no big deal. I did the same thing with my marriage where I was like, “Just married, no big deal. I think I like this guy, he’s okay,” kind of thing. And I’m afraid that I will be…

Meg: Why is that?

Maddie: I think it’s a rejection of the cultural narrative that it’s this huge, life altering…

Meg: …everything will change.

Maddie: Yes, exactly. So I feel like I need to say, “Nope, all the same here. Fine and dandy.” And I don’t know if that’s something that will change, or if I’m shooting myself in the foot with that.

Meg: I think you have to allow for the fact that things change. My identity has not shifted, but that doesn’t mean that all kinds of things haven’t changed. You know, there’s a whole new person in our lives. So, I think it’s a little bit of a balance. I also think that I’m in a weird situation in terms of identity, because super weirdly to me—because friends of ours had kids twelve and thirteen years ago—but super weirdly to me we are young within our friends circle to have kids, young within the greater Bay Area professional scene to have kids. In David’s office, the people who have kids the same age as ours are partners in their early forties. So, I’ve been in this weird situation where I roll up to daycare and I’m wearing some—David always mocks me that I’m wearing some trendy crap. I’m wearing like, Hunter wellies and patterned tights and a jean skirt and a striped shirt. And everyone else is noticeably older and wearing office clothes. There really can be this sort of mismatch, I feel like I look like the babysitter. Which is ridiculous because I’m thirty-two. So it can be sort of interesting the ways your identity maybe doesn’t shift, and then how you relate to other parents. I haven’t figured that part out yet. At all.

How We Stay Sane

Maddie: One thing I want to talk about is this idea of support. Because I feel like there is this myth of you and your partner, and that’s it, and you just do this. And I’ve noticed just by spending time with you—you have a pretty big support system.

Meg: Maddie knows that because she had my baby at her farm all day on Saturday. And she couldn’t do it alone at her farm.

Maddie: I couldn’t!

Meg: She had a husband and a roommate and a box of Chicken in a Bisket. And a dog.

Maddie: So true.

Meg: I think support is the most key thing to talk about.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say you can’t do this and stay sane if you don’t have a lot of support. And I don’t mean that that support has to come in a particular form. We have not paid for babysitting—I wrote my first babysitting check yesterday. And I have a four-month-old. And we don’t have family in the area. We just have a lot of friends that really stepped up. There’s this idea with weddings that maybe you think that people want to support you, but they don’t. And I’ve found that with having a baby, people genuinely do want to support you. Babies are cute, so that helps.

Your support may look like paying someone. It may look like having family in the area. It may look like just having friends you can call. But we needed so much support. People brought us meals for a month. We had someone that lived nearby that we could call at two in the morning to bring us stuff from the house when we ended up in the hospital. We had people that were willing to help us throw the Bris. We have people that come over and get us out of the house. And I think that the modern idea that you can do this on your own—I sort of wonder if that isn’t where a lot of the real crazy-making comes in. Because I think you can totally be a parent and be sane, but if you are trying to be a parent and be sane without drawing on support—whether that’s your church or our family or your friends or someone you pay—then it’s going to be really hard. And I would not still be sane.

Maddie: And I’m curious, just because I know, but I don’t think the readers will know, how much of that support has come from people with kids themselves?

Meg: Oh! Almost none of our local friends have kids. People always talk about—and this was a question I saw pop up a lot in the comments, was like, “How will this affect your relationship with your friends without kids?”—most of our friends don’t have kids. This has been amazing. Yes, we get invited out less, but we get supported more, so I think we’ve actually gotten closer to people, even if we’re out less. But because a lot of our friends don’t have kids, they’re super willing and often super eager to babysit, to hang out with him, to make meals. They’re not completely absorbed by their own life with kids. I think it will shape up differently when our friends have kids—we’ll know the kind of support they need—but I would say almost all our support has come from friends without kids.

Role Models Of A Different Sort

Maddie: What’s the biggest lie you think you were fed? From deciding through now?

Meg: I just thought, on some level, that my entire life would change and I would have to give up all of the stuff that mattered. That was not my conscious philosophy, but I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to avoid it. And that has just one hundred percent not been true. I mean, I don’t want to say that it’s easy or you get the same amount of sleep or whatever. But we’ve already taken him to Salt Lake City. We’ve booked international tickets for his first birthday (we’ll see how that goes). We still read every night. We didn’t for a while, but now we read every night in bed. We still watch the same shows that we’ve always watched. And again, it’s that you’re going to sacrifice some things, but whatever the core things that you decide are really important to you, you have an opportunity to not sacrifice. Certainly if you are able to work out a balance, where you have some sort of support. If you don’t have any support and you’re doing it one hundred percent by yourself, I don’t know. I can’t speak to that. I think it’s going to be a lot harder.

Maddie: When I hear you talk, I feel like you represent a new narrative that I’ve never heard before. And I’ve said this before, but watching you interact, watching you while we were at Alt, interacting with other mothers and still looking like people, it was life altering for me. And I’m curious if—one of the questions that was asked in the open thread was whether or not you feel pressured to do things a certain way, like family pressure to not hold the baby a certain way. But I’m curious if you feel pressure to be a role model against the popular cultural narrative, and to do things like write for a certain group of people.

Meg: I have felt a tremendous amount of pressure to write about motherhood publicly. I think if you are a public woman who writes, and you become a mother, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to change your professional identity so that it revolves around being a mother. And I have really no interest in doing that. Some of that is because I just want to keep private things private, and some of it is because it’s very political for me that being a mother isn’t the thing that defines my professional life. It doesn’t define David’s professional life, why should it define mine? So in that sense I do feel a lot of pressure—that people want to know what’s going on with me, either because they want me to be a role model or because they want to judge me. And I’m just sort of not interested. This interview is probably the most anyone’s ever going to get from me on the subject.

Maddie: Do you think that is more or less dangerous or on equal footing with this myth of the mom with spitup in her hair who can’t keep her shit together?

Meg: I don’t find it dangerous. I felt like I was only able to move forward with being a mother because I watched people that I am five years younger than, like Maggie Mason, I’ve watched how she navigated motherhood for the past five years. And I now know her personally, but I was watching very closely from the time that she got pregnant on, when I certainly did not know her personally. So for me it was super important to have role models for being able to do it differently, and being able to still be happy and be professionally fulfilled. There are so few of those, or there were so few of those for me, that I think that is really important.

And while I’m not interested in being a role model, I don’t think that being professionally fulfilled and being happy as a mother is necessarily far-fetched at all. It’s just that there is not a lot of messaging that it’s possible. There isn’t a lot of messaging around key things, like you need to have support, you need to work really hard to have an egalitarian relationship before you go into it, you don’t have to give everything up. So I think just those sort of basic broad strokes messaging, if there were more of it, I think a lot of us would feel like it was easier to make decisions that made us happy.

What If We Said, “I’m A Good Mom Because…” Instead?

Maddie: Do you have anything else you want to say?

Meg: There is this idea that you can’t be happy as a mother unless motherhood consumes you, so you’re either going to be really unhappy or you’re going to lose yourself. And I just found that not to be true. Again, everyone’s going to react differently. So I don’t know what will happen for someone else, but I feel like I am happier now than I was before and that feels fairly radical to me, because I didn’t give up my career or I didn’t give up the rest of my life. There’s this message that you’re not going to be able to have it all: if you’re happy with your kid, you’re not going to be happy with your professional life. If you’re happy with your professional life, you’re not going to be happy with your kid. That messaging isn’t out there for men, and I feel like it’s really just fear-mongering for women, and that I’ve been able to be really happy with both in this very early part of motherhood, at least. And nothing is perfect. Like, I miss my kid when he’s at daycare and sometimes I miss my work when I’m with my kid, and that’s because I’m lucky enough to have a kid that I love and work that I love, so some part of me wants to be doing both things constantly because I like them both. And I can’t. So there’s always trade offs. And I’m tired and whatever. So it’s not perfect. But I just think that it’s a total myth that you can’t be happy with both.

Then the other thing that I would throw out there is that I’ve made a really conscious effort to not ever say, “I’m a bad mom.” That phrase is so much the part of the cult of motherhood, that when you’re out with mothers, if you took a drink every time someone said, “I’m a bad mother,” you would be plastered within an hour. And “I’m a bad mom” is sort of this meme for: you’re a bad mom if you’re interested in something besides your kid. You’re a bad mom if you’re bored by an infant sometimes. You’re a bad mom if you wish you were back at work. You’re a bad mom if you want to take a shower. And I think all of that is ridiculous. Wanting to be a fully-fledged human being and a mother does not make you a bad mother. I think arguably it has the potential to make you a better mother because you’re a happy person. And then you’re raising your child as a person and not as a mother. So I really make an effort never to say that. Also because, I’m the only mom he’s got! So I better just be imperfect, right? I just am what I am.

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  • Denzi

    Basically, just: yes. Thank you, Meg. Thank you, Maddie. Thank you, David. Thank you, people around Meg. Thank you, everyone at APW with the fears and the hopes and the questions. *clings to this awesome post and awesome community*

  • Oh wow yes, yes, yes. Thanks Meg. Thanks so much. I kind of always imagined and hoped motherhood could be like this, and you are showing us the way, like Maddie said (and others echoed last time) as a wiser, older sister. (Though I think we’re the same age).
    And I think you really are on to something about having a support system, and about balancing the rest of your life, keeping your interests, your job, your friends, your hobbies. The whole “be it all, do it all on your own”-thing is (I think) a western concept, and a new one too. Until a few years ago families would help each other, there was always an aunt, a grandma, a neighbor, it was part of a “system”, an understanding of how things were done and it still is like that in many cultures / societies. You are probably right, pretending that we can do it without help is where the”real crazy-making comes in.”
    Also, as someone who has friends with kids but has not yet been blessed with her own I can say that we absolutely *love* babysitting / helping / being there in the ways that are necessary for our friends that do have children, it is nice to be able to support them.

    • meg

      Yes. The problem is that the system isn’t really biologically designed to work with just two people, or worse, just one primary caregiver. But we’ve decided that’s how it’s done, in this moment, in this culture. And worse, we’ve decided that it’s some sort of *contest* to see what mom can do the most totally on her own. It’s…. not great for anyone, I’d argue. It really truly is supposed to take a village.

    • so, i’m conflicted about the idea of a support system. that is, intellectually i couldn’t agree more: parenting was never intended to be a solo (or duo) thing; that’s just crazy-making. but my experience hasn’t really borne that out.

      when we signed up to become parents (literally, as foster parents), we felt like we had a really awesome substantial support system. that did not pan out (to be fair, probably because, like us, all our friends were expecting one kid, not three toddlers). now we’ve got in-laws who are a little far away and one friend who loves us enough to babysit, but doesn’t really like to.

      and, you know, it’s been fine. and moreover it’s been awesome. and it’s changed our relationship in good, strong ways. so, when i think about parenting, i think about how important having a broader community is, but when i do it, i really don’t mind just doing it with my wife most of the time.

      (and clearly a small support system is different than no support system; and clearly we have advantages like daycare and flexible jobs; and clearly so much of this depends on personal factors like becoming a parent drastically changing my identity or that we don’t buy into the cult of motherhood that we have to be 100% involved with the kids at all times. but i just wanted to add a perspective that also it *can* be great even if you don’t have a huge list of awesome people to help you out.)

      • Remy

        I am also a little conflicted, perhaps for different reasons. While I think the concept of a support system is lovely and should be encouraged, another part of me thinks that in choosing to raise children, I am taking on responsibility for them (either alone or with my partner) and therefore (this is where it gets kinda hinky) I should not expect support from sources outside my partnership. I felt that way about the wedding, too, and we ended up doing it mostly ourselves, with some key contributions of time or materials from friends/family — much appreciated, but nothing like the kind of community support I’ve read about here.

        I guess I would feel hesitant to ask for that help, either because of this construct that I shouldn’t, or shouldn’t have to, or maybe from an idea that I wouldn’t be seen as a good parent for doing so. (Maybe out of fear that no one would say yes?) Meg addressed the asking part in comments, so maybe I’m not adding anything new here. Just trying to work it out.

        • Maybe make a difference in your head between expecting the support, and being willing to accept it if offered? There’s a huge difference, for example, of calling people to ask them to give you stuff, and accepting hand me downs or babysitting when people offer.

          • Remy

            I am very very willing to accept when offered! Only… no one offers. (Reality? Pessimistic hypothetical? So far unknown.)

            I’m going off of my recent experience with big cultural milestones — wedding, mostly, and graduation. I try to look at the positives of it now: I was pleasantly surprised by a few of my friends’ willingness to let us borrow their stuff. Some of them pulled together in the 2-3 days before the wedding and pretty much took over food prep and decoration, which was amazing. I even got along with my mom, who is actually very good at party-hosting and handled some details I would not have considered crucial but which turned out beautifully.

            For almost everything that was organized outside of me and my wife, though, I felt like I was pulling teeth to get it started, and then horrid and ungrateful when it did not come together in that cake-baking-dress-sewing way. I knew I wasn’t going to have a blogworthy wedding, but I did want things I’d kind of assumed would happen: my bridesmaids picking out their dresses more than a couple weeks before the ceremony, for example. Or someone volunteering to help me find a hairpiece, or offering to lend me my “something borrowed”. Or anyone talking to me about any of it, ever. (I am very glad I had Team Practical and the Offbeat Bride Tribe to share a lot of emotional stuff with.) I had to ask, when I felt like it was important enough, or find a way around it if I couldn’t bring myself to ask. It felt awful.

            I would have offered all of that to them (as I offer babysitting when I can, to the very few that are local and have kids; or moving help; or lunch together), so conventional wisdom might gently tap me on the shoulder and remind me that it would be silly not to expect the same from them. But six months after the wedding, I’m (obviously) still shaken by that lack, and it’s affecting my feelings about family-raising support. I don’t expect that support, at least not in the “Hey, do you need a break? I’ll come over and hold the baby for a while and you can do laundry and we’ll chat.” way. So I’m looking for ways to be okay with that, and perhaps to build it myself some other way.

        • meg

          You know, it’s interesting, because that’s a worldview thing. My fundamental worldview is that it takes a village to raise a kid (that’s very literally how I was rased). I view it as healthier for me, sure. But I also think it’s healthier for my kid, and honestly? Healthier for my community. I’ve been a member of my wider community for… a long time now… and I want to be asked to step up and love the shit out of my friends kids. I think it’s sort of selfish if they withdraw and don’t let me do that, to be honest :)

          You might have a different worldview, and that’s cool.

          However, it’s worth pointing out that this idea of the nuclear family being everything is a very of-the-moment western idea, tied up in our (over) emphasis on individuality at the expense of the group.

      • Marina

        Personally, my experience has been that I’ve needed to find SOME support, even when that support hasn’t come from places I’ve expected. So, for instance, when my friends aren’t able to babysit for free, I hire babysitters, or when my childless friends don’t want to spend all their social time at the playground, I need to find ways to connect with other parents… I think there’s a lot of shaming especially about hiring people to do childcare or clean, and for me at least hired support ABSOLUTELY counts as support.

  • Amie

    Oooooh the tribe bag. I still haven’t pulled the trigger, Meg.

    That aside, love love loved this feature. Resonates strongly as a new mum a few months ahead of you.

    • meg

      I’m the bad influence bear: get the bag, get the bag.

      • That bag is too cute. We’re down to just a small backback now, and this is making me want to ‘regress’ if you will.

        • meg

          Honestly, everyone lied to me. I don’t use a diaper bag that much. He has a crappy daycare bag, because I leave it there. And that only has whatever supplies we need that day: two bottles! breast milk! So I only really use my bag on the weekends, and we’re not out all the time then.

          BUT WHO CARES. Because this also fits a laptop, and will be my bag for foreverever. The end. Love, Meg. (Best gift ever.)

          • Marina

            I started using a diaper bag more when she started crawling and eating solid foods. Extra change of clothes, because somehow she always finds the mud, and more snacks. And toys, when she stopped being endlessly entertained by silverware. But, I mean, it’s just a bag. There’s nothing unique that makes it a “diaper bag”.

  • “…you need to have support, you need to work really hard to have an egalitarian relationship before you go into it, you don’t have to give everything up.” I’m going to write this down somewhere for every time the panic rises. Thank you so, so much for doing this for all of us. Reading these interviews really has made the whole idea less scary as we look at starting down that road in the next several months. That I could love being a mother and still continue to be myself probably shouldn’t be a revelation, but it kind of is.

  • “I have felt a tremendous amount of pressure to write about motherhood publicly. I think if you are a public woman who writes, and you become a mother, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to change your professional identity so that it revolves around being a mother. And I have really no interest in doing that. Some of that is because I just want to keep private things private, and some of it is because it’s very political for me that being a mother isn’t the thing that defines my professional life.”

    As much as I’d love to hear more of what you have to say on the subject of motherhood beyond these interviews this just makes me smile. In its own way this stance does make you a bit of a role model on motherhood and feminism.

    • meg

      I’m sure I’ll have a thing to say now and then. People have requested a post on choosing the babies last name, that sort of thing. But you’ll get in the context of a whole life. I’m not going to grab the @MomMeg Twitter handle any time soon. (Oof! I just gave myself the literal chills there.)

      • Which makes sense. You didn’t grab the @wifemeg handle either.

      • Zelie

        Here’s what I want to know (and it’s so personal that if you aren’t comfortable talking about it then maybe other’s would pitch in their answers), how did you know it was the right time to have a baby? I’m struggling with this and am trying to weigh money, health problems around fertility and the busyness of our lives, building of my career. I hear so much about how there is never a perfect time but how did you know that this was a time that would work for you and David?

        • Lturtle

          I can’t speak for Meg (obv) but for us the decision making went like this – we got pregnant (oops), we knew we wanted kids at some point, we so did not have our sh*t together, we also knew that we likely wouldn’t get it together anytime soon, so why not now. Basically pregnant now + no perfect time = baby now. That was over nine years ago, and I won’t say it was easy, and it wasn’t always awesome, but it was absolutely the right call for us. Now baby #2 is on the way, and the decision process was pretty much the same.

        • meg

          It’s less that it’s personal (it is) but more that it’s complicated. I had a pretty long game on this one. I knew I really wanted kids (though I struggled with it a lot before I pulled the trigger). So I planned around it from the time I was in college. I was working towards working for myself creatively since I was… 19… because I decided that would be the best fit for me. I made that work when I was almost 31, and after that I figured the rest would work itself out.

          If I hadn’t made it work, I would have still probably decided that the rest would work itself out. We just felt about ready to go. Other stuff like money and business we figured would work themselves out, once we were ready internally.

        • meg

          Oh, and while I firmly believe there is no right time, I also firmly believe there are wrong times.

        • Marina

          For my husband and I a lot of it was figuring out non-negotiables. His big non-negotiable was that he wanted to be debt-free. That was a concrete, time-limited goal I could latch on to, and thankfully we had little enough debt that it was a relatively short timeline. My big non-negotiable was having health insurance and qualifying for FMLA. Those are also super concrete goals. I think it’s easy to get caught up in trying to figure out what feels like the right time, or when you “just know”, and I’m sure that works for some people but that’s not my style. :) A goal like “When my career is less overwhelming” wouldn’t work for me, because it’s not specific enough. Although “When I can make X amount of money working 40 hours a week” would work just fine, because I can take that and figure out a plan to get there.

  • SusieQ

    Thanks for doing this interview! Growing up in the south, with friends who got married younger and immediately became consumed by their children, I had been pretty against the idea of becoming a mother. But in grad school, I met a woman who was an example to me in a lot of ways. She lives her life in a way that SHE deems best, and became a mother in the way that THEY (she and her husband) deemed best. It included doing it in the middle of grad school, with no jobs, and buying nothing for their baby except a car seat and some diapers. They weren’t irresponsible, but they did things differently (no carefully prepared nursery! Or crib, for that matter), and it the first time I’d seen a version of motherhood that I felt like I could emulate. My friend remained herself, and while she doted on her child, she was very self aware, and maintained her own personality and goals. Their child is almost 4 now, and they are all thriving.

    Meg, your interview reminds me of her, in a very good way. Examples like this are important, in that it gave me a way to visualize myself as a mother that was NOT defined by my child (in my mind and in others).

    ETA: I appreciate your perspective, Meg, but I don’t mean to say that you should share more – part of what is good here is that you are shutting a door, and saying “I am a mother, but in this space, I am primarily a writer/editor/owner of APW.”

  • Jessica

    Love this. It is so refreshing to read. Meg, it is so powerful to hear you publicly acknowledge you can be happy at both motherhood and work — and happy with the trade offs. Not because this is not possible, just simply because its not part of the cultural narrative. And in my opinion it needs to be.

    “It doesn’t define David’s professional life, why should it define mine?” I love this. This has been my new mantra with my partner, just doing an “egalitarian” check every now and then. For example, I realized in our long distance relationship I tend to plan the visit dates, figure out the travel arrangements, et cetera. Why am I doing that, I realized? He’s perfectly capable of doing that — so now he’s doing that for this summer.

    The more important point I’m taking away from this is simply that having an egalitarian relationship starts now, even when we’re dating (or especially then) and its a lot of little conscious choices you have to be making, continually being willing to re-evaluate why you are doing things the way you are doing them.

    • emilie

      “The more important point I’m taking away from this is simply that having an egalitarian relationship starts now, even when we’re dating (or especially then) and its a lot of little conscious choices you have to be making, continually being willing to re-evaluate why you are doing things the way you are doing them.”

      Would love to hear some wisdom from others on how to get in the habit of doing egalitarian check ups.

      • Jessica

        Me again. The big “a-ha” moment for me – beyond simply reading APW – was seeing my partner decide on a graduate school 6 months after me. My graduate school decision: melt-down filled, wondering if I’d get in anyplace, not applying to my stretch schools because I thought I wasn’t smart enough, stress about going to school away from him, tears, frets about money / debt / delaying our marriage plans.

        His: I want to go to XYZ school (one of the top programs). Applied. Got in. Started. Paid a way expensive deposit / tuition.

        That’s it! I got a fellowship for my school and thought “Oh, this is so great, now we won’t have so much debt when we get married.” He hardly blinked at the cost of his school, which is going to be much more than mine.

        He never thought ONCE about how going to school would impact us getting married / our debt as a married couple / our family plans. And it’s not because he doesn’t want these things, or is not evolved as a person. I just really think in our culture women get different messages than men, and we have to be careful what we infer from these messages.

        So now, every time I have a life decision (summer internship, etc.) I just try to think like my partner would think. Would he think twice about declining a job that paid half of what the job I ended up getting paid? No! Why should I?

        Then with regard to daily things I’ve just started getting in the habit of asking myself why I am doing this thing. For example, making him dinner – doing it because I like to or OH NO I’m making him co-dependent? Usually it’s because I like to… but sometimes, I realize it’s because we’re being co-dependent, or I’m taking on too much, and then I ask him to do these things.

        The way I think of it now is, my partner wants to support me, my dreams & wants us to both work when we have kids (I want these things too). So if that’s the case, then we’ve got to have stuff be roughly equal (no bean counting, though) well before we have kids, which means starting now.

        How’s that for a very long winded answer?!

      • Marina

        A lot of the time it’s been as simple as saying, “Hey, here’s a non-egalitarian thing I want to avoid. Could you poke me if you notice me doing that?”

        I talked to my parents once about why they’d decided to have my dad be the one working full time and my mom staying home with kids full time. I was shocked when they said they’d never discussed it at all–they both just assumed that was how it’d be, even though in many respects they are pretty counter-culture type people. It made me feel like my husband and I really had a leg up from where they’d started out, just by being able to talk to each other about wanting an egalitarian relationship at all.

  • One More Sara

    Professional baby flyer here! Around a year old is, in my opinion, one of the easiest times to fly with a baby. When they are only a few months old, there tend to be more frequent messy accidents (poop up the back, spit up everywhere type situations) which made me really nervous, to the point that I packed 2 spare outfits for myself, and I think 4 or 5 for baby (I didn’t need mine, but I think baby did actually need about 3 or 4 changes on the 8 hour flight). At a year old, those are way down, so one spare outfit for yourself and two for baby should be plenty. AND you are allowed to bring snacks on the plane, which I never thought about. Bananas, crackers, cereal (they always have milk!), and I’m pretty sure you can bring baby food purees with you, but they might have to be packaged/sealed. Hopefully he doesn’t learn to walk before your trip, bc after they learn to walk, flying is harder (not impossible!!) for a few years. It’s just now getting easier for us again, and K is turning 4 next month.

    You guys hyphenated baby’s name right? Because it also might be handy (esp if either parent doesn’t share baby’s name) to travel with his birth certificate. Europeans don’t really trust the signature page that parents sign in baby US passports (and I quote “But anyone can sign a paper. How do I know he’s your baby??”), and if you have a birth cert, there is never any doubt.

    • meg

      Oooo! Good. Yeah, I didn’t talk about the HORRIFIC ACCIDENT that happened just as the plane pushed back in Salt Lake, about 45 minutes before I could change him. Of course, it was the worst accident of his life to date. Thank god he was totally cool with it, even if the rest of us were in shock and horror. Oh, babies!

      And yeah, for our (domestic) flights next month we’ve been advised to bring the birth certificate, though this is totally an argument for name hyphenation ;)

      • Amy

        Ugh, the one good thing about breastfed baby poop accidents is that while horrific and gross, they don’t smell. My son was a champion poop up and outer, and honestly, once or twice in an emergency we just had to wipe me off, change him, and go on with our day as we were already out. Nobody knew the difference. Sigh, it all goes to hell once they start solids though, ewwwww.

        • This right here is exactly why I use cloth diapers. One blow out in 12 months, instead of them happening regularly, which seems to happen to friends. Better designed diapers just keep all that mess inside.

      • MDBethann

        Yes!! So when my DH and I eventually have children, my super awkward combo last name will pay off!! :-)

    • We always bring a birth certificate, but thankfully have never had to use it.
      H has flown throughout the continental US, and to Japan, but only once was it just the two of us, and her and my names don’t match (still somewhat conflicted about that; may change it up at some point). I was a bit nervous, but, our flight to NY went quite smoothly and no one blinked at the name mismatch.
      We did have a US customs gentleman ask us about her eye color upon our return from Japan… babies eyes change colors you guys.

      • One More Sara

        Eye color was the source of contention at an EU customs with me too!!! Brown-eyed people can have blue eyed babies!!! Spread the worddddddd

      • Hypothetical Sarah

        Oh customs agents… no babies for us (yet), but B. and I thoroughly perplexed a US immigration officer when we were in our legally married/pre-wedding phase. Apparently having different last names, no wedding rings, and living in different countries didn’t sound “married” to him.

  • Shiri

    From what I’ve seen of friends and family in addition to what Meg is saying, the support issue is so key. Which leads me to wonder of those of you who’ve had this experience – besides the support you can pay for, did you know the rest would be there before you had the baby? Meaning, did your friends make it clear or even know themselves that they’d be there for you this way? Was this intentional on your part or on your family’s part? I wonder about putting these systems in place in terms of childcare or arranged agreements or if some can arise spontaneously among friends (clearly not a regimented system of childcare, but friends coming over to cook meals, etc).

    I guess I’m really wondering if my community has this in them, if I’ve created the kinds of relationships that would actually bear this burden/take on this responsibility, or if the kind of support I’d be looking at would be more haphazard and/or based on a financial transaction.

    • Amy

      I think it also very much depends on the type of child you have and the type of issues you’re facing. We had lots of family come by in early days to cook/babysit/pick up, but the truly rough part for us at this point is figuring out emergency arrangements with 2 parents working office jobs. Family is too far to come sit same day and friends have their own jobs, so for that stuff (weather issues closing day care, sickness, multiple doctor’s appts, etc) a lot of our support is paid. Which honestly, is fine, we’re grateful we can afford it. We still have family/friends around to allow us to get a date night/etc. but unless your family is super close and very flexible I wouldn’t necessarily count on them for those inevitable emergency ‘oh shoot, I have to travel and my husband has a meeting but the baby woke up with a 103′ fever, now what?’ times.

    • meg

      I’m not sure we knew how our friend support would shape up (though I guess we should have, our community is pretty awesome). For example, I was BLOWN AWAY when they told us they’d set up a system for people to bring us three meals a week (with leftovers) for the the first month. We did line up paid daycare before he arrived, but that’s it. It might have been nice if we’d lined up a paid babysitter or two to call, but that really didn’t happen. I will say that having support that you pay is not lesser support. What matters is just that you have support.

      We’re lucky in that I have other friends who work for themselves, which means I have had people to call for those middle of the day emergencies. But our friends with less flexible jobs have been rocks too. I think the most key thing for us has just been to ASK. It’s so easy to not ask for help, because it’s sort of scary to do it, and I have to learn this over and over. I won’t ask, won’t ask, won’t ask… and then someone (like Maddie!) will figure out that I need help and be like “Oh for gods sake, of COURSE I’ll take him.” And then will take him for twice the amount of time I was going to ask for. It’s nice for me, but it’s GREAT for the kid. I want him to have a whole community of people who love him, and people he can turn to when he needs things. Parents are limited by their parent-ness. Other people around him are not.

      • I love that you’re talking about community support. I definitely feel like I was raised by a village of (non-biological) aunties and uncles and I see so clearly how that support kept my parents sane, able to enjoy parenthood, AND able to keep pursuing their own interests and goals.

        This past Easter, during our church’s post-service reception, I went around and asked to hold people’s babies while they (the parents) ate. Such a little thing (and bonus baby snuggles for me!) that it was a little embarrassing to be thanked for it as though it were a big deal. But we live in an area where so many people are far away from family and close friends and I think are afraid to ask for any kind of help (maybe because we live in the midst of so much cultural noise about how babies are hard and finicky and easily-screwed-up?). It was a good reminder to me to offer help more often and to start thinking about how we’ll cope once we’re the parents with all family an entire country away.

        • meg

          I am convinced babies are not rocket science and are hard to screw up. Ask Maddie how I prep my babysitters.

          • I now really hope it involves handing them the diaper bag, your phone number, and breezing out the door with a “See ya, suckazzzz!”


          • Maddie

            Ha, Sharon, it’s basically that. Last time I babysat, there was money for pizza on the table next to a bottle of bourbon and I was given a tour through the garden so that I knew where the mint leaves were to make mint juleps. “Because you’ll want a mint julep while he’s sleeping.”

            Maybe that’s why I’m always offering to babysit?

          • HA! Mine routine is to add a few tips on how to deal with a baby who will hate you only because you’re not me, but I tell them to just ignore the crying, and to put her to bed when it gets to be too much. Shy introvert babies, man. I still don’t think it will screw her up – I think it’s good for her. After all, she now loved her daycare ladies, and she hated them too at first.

            But otherwise? Out the door, and no calling in to check ever.

          • meg

            To be totally fair, David has yelled at Maddie “Remember, don’t shake the baby!” while running out the door. This is truth.

            I mean, she knows how to change a diaper and get yelled at in the face.

            I *am* a sucker for texted pictures though.

    • Marina

      Some of it was intentional (my brother was like, “Hey, I’m gonna come over every Wednesday evening and make you food and hold your baby while you eat” oh my god I owe him forever) and some of it was a surprise or changed over time. I have one friend who thought she was never going to hold the baby ever, then was surprised and pleased to find that small infants are just like kittens, and if you hold them under your chin and purr at them they fall asleep. So she helped out a bunch in the infant stage, then for a while was my go to person when I needed to talk about Anything But Babies, and now that my toddler can build things with blocks they’re friends again. I imagine it’ll keep changing.

  • Wow! Thank you both so much for these. They were SO reassuring. We both very much want children in the future, but there are so many things to be afraid of! It’s so helpful to hear some non-alarmist accounts of parenthood.

    This is one of the many reasons I still read APW every day, going on 6 months after our wedding. There are so many opportunities to talk about growing up, and to share experiences in a safe place. As this totally freaked out person who had just gotten engaged, but without a proposal, I felt like there weren’t sane voices out there for guidance. When I found APW and went to the book tour a few days later, it was exactly like Maddie described. There was a whole big group of women who were like “my best friend’s cool sister.” It wasn’t about age at all, just about looking to other people who’d gone through these life events that I hadn’t yet.

    And hanging around and commenting on the site has been a chance for me to interact with women, something I didn’t really used to do all that often, and glean some real knowledge in a different way than from my male friends. I think my time here, along with some other big life changes (moving, starting a company, having to hire/fire people, getting married) made me sassier, much more vocal about my feminism, and much, much more assertive in times when I previously would have been too scared of what someone might think to speak up.

    So this comment started as a “thanks for this feature” and morphed into a love letter to APW, but I’m cool with that. THANK YOU!!!

    • meg

      Non-alarmist. That’s IT. That’s the exact way to describe it. That’s what I needed during a difficult pregnancy when I was not in a good place, and couldn’t seem to find (other than in a few amazing girlfriends). Now, often I read something about motherhood, my first reaction is, “I actually haven’t found it to be that… bad?” It seems like the dialoge moves between SO HARD SO AWFUL SUCH SACRIFICE OF SELF and SO WONDERFUL SO GLOWING SO PERFECT SACRIFICE OF SELF. And I really haven’t lived very much in either extreme (though obviously, I’ve had moments of each, but literally, moments). Most of the time it’s in the middle. Somewhat hard but really great.

      Again, your mileage may vary. I’m not disparaging people who have had other experiences, I just wish the conversation was broader.

      • Meg, I think you’re right on there. Broadness is key in this conversation. Just like in marriage and weddings–everything is different for everyone. No biggie. Just nice to hear the different perspectives and know maybe someone is going through the same thing as you. And if not, it’s cool too. Just do you.

        • non-proposal engagements rock. That’s what we did and I would not have it any other way.

  • Carrie

    Firstly, Maddie and Meg, you make a gorgeous team. :-)

    Just another voice in the crowd to say thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

  • alana

    We are making major decisions based on the “support is crucial” thesis – we’ve actually pulled the trigger on moving across the world to my home country and home suburb as part of our baby-making plans. The idea of having a baby with my (retired) parents around to help, like, A LOT, makes the whole thing fundamentally less terrifying to me! And a good thing to, as I just found out that the fertility treatments worked and I’m 5 weeks pregnant :-)

    • Congratulations! Hope! It’s wonderful! (I’m also fertility-challenged.)

  • Zoo

    Thank you, Meg and Maddie, for painting a picture of parenthood that does not look like the end of Lord of the Rings. Parenthood does not have to be two stranded, dirty, exhausted people surrounded by lava saying, “I’m glad I’m with you, here at the end of all things.”

    • alyssa

      HA! This is exactly what I think of! Best LOTR reference I’ve seen.

    • actually, for me, that is exactly what it felt like at first.

      sometime around two months in i think the eagles came for us, but that is probably the most accurate description i’ve ever heard of my personal process becoming a parent (which was, admittedly, unusual).

      • meg

        Can I get you to write about that process? I’ve been meaning to ask!

        • ooh, yes! although i am still trying to wrap my head around it. i promise i will let you know when i manage an intelligible explanation, though.

      • ZOO

        I would really love to hear more about your experience. I feel like the super-early parenthood days are so shrouded in mystery, and it would be great to hear about your challenges, how you got through them, etc.

    • meg

      I just did a spit take.

      The first month is a little like that. But honestly, I found it sort of wonderful in that way. Ends of quests are tiring, man.

  • KE

    Am I the only one who wants to get knocked up, like, TODAY after reading this?

  • Precisely your last comment. We are the mothers they’ve got.

    I remember so clearly, over 25 years ago, looking down at my new baby daughter and thinking, “She’s perfect, I can only ruin her.” And then realizing that well, I’m the only mother she’s got so let’s make that be OK. The best thing I ever heard was from my psychologist brother who told me mothers have over 1,000 interactions with their babies, per day. PER DAY. So no one one was going to be the cause of anyone’s ruin.

    I am one of those who was rebuilt by motherhood. Let me say that it has not hurt my career. There’s more to say, but that in particular I’m going to put on the table.

    • Shiri

      Can that “there’s more to say” perhaps be said in a post here on APW? Yes, please?

    • meg

      I think that’s a really really great point.

      It’s so interesting, the rebuilt or not rebuilt thing. Like you, Lisa, I did really feel like the world cracked open and all the goodness spilled out, when he was born. But I, in myself, still felt like exactly the same person, now with new experiences. And it’s been helpful to realize that there are other people who felt like that too (phew).

      In short, however, there are many ways to skin a cat. So all this stressing out about having it all is probably a little more about selling magazines than skinning cats. (Poor cats).

      • And I didn’t feel anything like that even at all. Sure, it was largely the PPD, but I didn’t even love my kid for months, so there was no world cracking opens moments for me, like, ever. It was all a slow slide of love and changes and growth.

        Now that I’m back at work, after a year at home? I felt like me, mostly unchanged then, but now I realize how totally the same I am. But, you know, with extra love and worry for my kid, but really rather unchanged.

        I don’t think any of this materially affects the ways we feel about our babies, in the end.

        • meg


        • FM

          And I didn’t have PPD, but also didn’t feel like myself again until I went back to work. On the one hand, so grateful for the rare U.S. job that allows 6 months mostly-paid maternity leave. On the other hand, I don’t think it was the best thing for me personally to be out of work so long. And I didn’t feel that love at birth thing either. What I felt was an enormous, overwhelming, indescribable sense of amazement and responsibility, but I wouldn’t call it love. The love grew, over time, as it does for me with any other person.

  • Cleo

    totally not the point of the post (haven’t fully read the post yet), but i am completely distracted by how gorgeous Maddie looks in that first picture and how much she looks like Sara Ramirez (aka Callie from Grey’s Anatomy).

    That is all.

    • Yes! I will be so confused if I ever meet Maddie and she is not, in fact, Callie from Grey’s Anatomy, because that is exactly who she is in my head.

    • Maddie

      You guys are the nicest. I thought that was a really unflattering photo. Now I feel like a superstar.

      Also, Callie is my favorite. Not to mention, does this mean I’m not the only one still watching Grey’s?

      In short, DAY MADE.

      • Shiri

        Maddie, you might still be the only one still watching Grey’s… just saying :)

      • soleil

        You are definitely not the only one still watching Grey’s. Lauren and I can vouch for that. ;)

        (Also, my husband watches it too.)

        I will keep watching until it is officially the end. And then I will continue to get my Grey’s fix by watching the box sets as I do.


        I have made a grievous error in not mentioning it sooner. GRIEVOUS.

        • Shiri

          This thread is awesome :)

          • Maddie

            I love you both.

      • Cleo

        I still watch Grey’s. It made it through its awkward teenage years (ferryboat crash, etc.) and is now awesome once again. I’m DYING while this 3 week hiatus is going on.

        Callie and Arizona are my favorites, with Alex and Jo close seconds.

      • MDBethann

        Nah, I still watch it. Guilty pleasure. Besides, Patrick Dempsey is STILL McDreamy.

  • Mags

    Thanks for this, Meg. However, I strongly disagree that the myth of a mom being able to have “it all” is not damaging. For the vast majority of careers, there is simply not the flexibility to be able to spend substantial amounts of time with your child. Or much time at all. And while we do need role models who demonstrate that you can be fulfilled both in your family life as a mother and in your career, I think we also need to wake up and realize that these women are in a narrow subset of careers. Meg, you’re basically your own boss. As a writer, you can work at strange hours and most of your job is considered flexible. As a pregnant woman who is looking to change careers (because I am likely to lose my position that I’ve spent a lot of time working toward, because it isn’t as personally fulfilling as I hoped, and because I worry that I will never see my child if I continue to work the crazy hours I have to put in to move forward in this career), I keep running into brick walls. Nearly all of the jobs that interest me require hours that will not allow me to spend much time with my child because they are numerous (I would like to work 50 hours or less a week, which I don’t think should be considered unreasonable) and because they require me to be at a specific job location during the period of work. With the jobs that are left they almost always require significant amounts of additional training (I already have a PhD and don’t really want to go back to school so that I can teach elementary school students, plus I can’t afford paying for daycare when I’m not working), intensely long commutes (which will take more times away from my child), or moving away from the city I live in (which isn’t possible because my husband’s job is here, and this is one of the ten largest metropolitan areas in the country). So I really am thinking that being fulfilled in both areas is impossible and having people tell me that no, it’s completely possible if I had just chosen the right career path 5-10 years ago is unhelpful. Sorry I’m not focusing on ‘the good’ but it’s been a really bad couple of weeks.

    • One More Sara

      I don’t mean to invalidate your feelings/opinion in any way, but just want to offer a different perspective. Sure, maybe (probably) you won’t be 100% satisfied with parenting and 100% satisfied professionally all the time. You’ll naturally ebb and flow as life goes on. But that doesn’t mean that if you are 75% satisfied with your family/parenting life, that there is only 25% of happiness left to be found at work. If you are forced to take a new job that is most likely unfulfilling, just try to find one that won’t negatively impact for family life. AND don’t give up searching for a job that fulfills your professional goals/passions and also supports your family goals! It does exist… somewhere.

      Personally, I had my child before I had even entered the work force, so the idea that I would have (should have?) already found my “calling” or whatever was so impossible that it was easy for me to ignore. My kid is turning 4, and I’m about to re-start my education to qualify what is hopefully a lifetime career choice. In my 4 years as a parent, I’ve been mostly fulfilled in that role, but professionally, not so much. BUT, for most of those 4 years, I was generally happy.

      TL;DR There aren’t just 100 happiness/fulfillment percentage points that you have to split up between family and work. Your fulfillment in each area will fluctuate, but hopefully at the end of the day you’ll still be happy.

      • I too, spent the good part of the last few years either not pleased with my work situation or looking for a better one. I just kept reminding myself that I didn’t need All The Things right now. #sohard

    • meg

      First, I totally want to acknowledge that I hear you, and this is a troubling reality that we need to change. Our work life balance policies in this country are horrific, and not just for parents. And the fact that we don’t have a more uniform and affordable (if not free) system of daycare in this country is a travesty that needs to be fixed yesterday. Too many kids are stuck at unsafe daycares, because it’s all that parents can afford, and our regulation, training, and oversight is terrible.

      That said, I’m not happy with work and career because I’m working weird flexible hours. If I were, I would have been very up front about that. I work full time, and I have a kid in full time daycare. It’s easy to imagine that I pull it off by working late nights after he’s asleep, but I don’t. (Well, actually, I DO, but that’s because like most working parents in this country, I tend to log on and finish up some work after he’s asleep). I do really deeply appreciate the fact that I have the flexibility to take him to doctors appointments, but I do have a pretty normal work life. So, the fact that I’m happy with both things isn’t really because I have a career that’s unusual, because it’s structured in a pretty usual way. Also (and probably more helpfully for most people) my husband is an attorney in a mid-sized firm, and he’s happy with his parenting and his career. So, it’s a possible thing in the real world.

      But that does NOT take away from the fact that policies need to shift, and it’s still way too hard for way to many people.

      • Hi Meg, Please run for President. Or at least become Secretary of Labor or Health or something. Thanks!

    • Class of 1980

      “So I really am thinking that being fulfilled in both areas is impossible and having people tell me that no, it’s completely possible if I had just chosen the right career path 5-10 years ago is unhelpful.”

      There seem to be so many young women who begin the career they always wanted, but who are blindsided by the fact that babies don’t fit easily into the career they’ve chosen. I can’t count how often I hear about this.

      I know of one new doctor in residency who is managing by having her husband stay home with the babies. She was shocked to find there was no maternity leave in residency for her first surprise pregnancy, and then she had complications and had to take time off without pay. They are managing, but there have been some dark days where she has felt jealous that her husband gets all the time with them. Pumping breast milk at the hospital was tough when she was running all over the place. Feeling ill or in pain during pregnancy was tough because she couldn’t stop. Residency coincides with the time that a female doctor is at prime child-bearing age, but residents are run ragged and have no life to call their own. There have been studies that show that babies born to residents have more health issues because the mother can’t take good care of herself. They have a higher incidence of being born premature too.

      I’m not trying to be a smart ass, but I wonder why this happens so much. Is it that people don’t check out the kind of hours required in the careers they want prior to committing to it? Is it that people don’t really understand what goes into taking care of a baby until they have one? Do people just assume they’ll figure it out when they get there and then get surprised by the obstacles?

      I just constantly see SMART women at a loss and in shock at reality.

      Help me understand this because I really am curious. In our rush to tell girls to reach for their dreams, are we not advising them to research the job requirements or think about daily practicalities until it’s too late?

      • Shiri

        I think there are many reasons for this. To begin with, we ARE told we can do whatever it is we want to do and don’t have to go into a “woman’s field” because we’re women and we may want to have babies. Some of us don’t plan our careers around our biology (and we shouldn’t have to?) and some of us don’t know we want babies until later on. Others, like that resident you mentioned, may not have planned that pregnancy and so didn’t have a structure in place to deal with it.

        There is also, I think, an enormous amount of pressure on young women today to not “give in” to the demands of the patriarchy by taking the fact that you want/might want children into account when planning your career. That that’s letting men determine your life, that you’re weak and anti-feminist if you do. Look at some of the backlash to “Lean In,” the ridiculous NYMag piece about “feminist housewives”, for instance. We were also told that things are changing so quickly for women that these questions wouldn’t apply to us. I remember thinking as a little girl that the stay at home/working mom divide would be gone by the time I was ready to have kids.

        There also isn’t an ideal situation in which it’ll be just fine to have a child and our careers won’t suffer. Teaching and nursing aren’t the perfect careers for young mothers, especially ones that are expected to not only gestate a child but also stay home to care for it, even though those are modern-traditionally female fields. There also isn’t a lot of woman to woman mentoring that allows younger women to see how we do or don’t make it work, what those hours and (in)flexibilities translate or don’t translate into in real life. We also don’t know how we’ll respond when the baby gets here, what will be hard, what will be easy, or how we’ll be willing to reprioritize.

        It also isn’t like if that resident just did more research she would have found the perfect profession in which to have a child. I don’t think that perfect profession exists. Yes, there are jobs you can have where it would be easier to have a kid, but in what role is it actually easy? There are also other factors – passions, finances, education, abilities, privilege – which play into the career a woman chooses and we shouldn’t be expected to pick a job around the fact that we might want to have children.

        • Class of 1980

          Well, given what residency is like, I honestly can’t think of any occupation that would be harder, as far as pregnancy, giving birth, and then taking care of the baby.

          My business partner used to recruit doctors, so we’ve talked about this a lot.

          From time-to-time, there is talk about how abusive the schedule is for residents. There have been stories in newspapers about an exhausted resident making a mistake and having a patient die as a result. Then there is always an uproar in the media about cutting them back to hours a human being can withstand … but then nothing changes.

          Shiri, I understand what you’re saying, and I am not suggesting that the resident would have chosen differently. I’m specifically asking why there is so much surprise/shock/dismay.

          So many are genuinely in shock from what I hear.

      • Rachel

        My friends and I are these women that were blindsided. Here’s what I think happened:

        We were told – See all those guys in business/engineering/tech running the world? You could be those guys! All you need to do is be smart, get the right schooling, work hard and ignore all the stereotypes!

        What we weren’t told – Most of those guys are a married, and their wife has almost 100% responsibility for running their home and taking care of their kids. They have a live-in personal secretary and nanny.

        Basically, unless you can afford a personal secretary and nanny, or your husband is willing to take those responsibilities on himself – women will find it very difficult to compete with men who have that support built in to their marriage. That is not politically correct to say, and so no one said it.

        • Amy

          Oh my yes. So much yes. I work from home for a very large company when I’m not traveling. It is a total blessing and I so appreciate my job and my firm. But our life would fall apart if not for the help we have, and the fact that me working from home enables me to run the majority of our home life stuff. If we were both full time office job people (like 90% of my colleagues are) I think we’d seriously consider either a nanny or me staying home. This is (the nanny or stay at home decision) is one many women my age seem to be making due to the lack of flexibility at many jobs.

        • Class of 1980

          Yes, I’ve heard that many times and it’s actually been written about a lot.

          Somehow, girls in college don’t seem to be getting that message. Maybe it’s part of being young, where your ideas are theoretical, but you don’t really know how things get done.

          Sometimes I think it’s all a meme … go to school, work hard, and everything will fall into place. But memes are usually too simplistic.

          I think older adults are failing in their messaging to younger generations. They give kids magic encouraging mantras and completely ignore advice on the nuts and bolts of life.

          • I also think priorities change. I wanted to get my PhD & be a professor for years and years. And I got my MA & it confirmed how much I loved that work. But I also saw just how exploitative the system is at the same time that I realized just how much I want kids and other nice things like vacation. So I left

        • Pamela

          I totally see what you’re getting at. However, the system will not change until we change it. I’m sure residency is hard on pregnant women. It sounds like it’s hard on *everyone* though. As one of the posters above noted, there are horror stories of residents being sleep deprived and making bad decisions. To me, that means there’s something wrong with the whole systm, and it needs to change for the benefit of the employees and the patients.

          Why are men willing to work 80+ hours a week (or whatever the “norm” these days is) in the first place? I know it’s what we’re told “has to happen” in order to be successful, but to me that’s a symptom of corporate greed, since they’re paying one person to (basically) do two jobs. Until woman *and* men decide they won’t do that any more, it won’t stop.

          I guess my point is, why is our current corporate culture acceptable to *anyone*??

          • Class of 1980

            Exactly. Residency is hard on both sexes. There has been talk for decades about changing it.

            And it never changes.

          • Shiri

            Yes, yes. Look at what Morgan says below about Canada and work/life balance. Obviously, residency is terrible in Canada, too, but there is also a culture at play here.

          • Eh, my friend’s husband is a resident, and they still go to food festivals and hiking and he spends time with their baby. I know he’ll be on call for 24h, but then he’s usually home for 24h, as far as I know. May be that even residency doesn’t have to be so bad.

          • Jessica

            This HBR article on Lean In talks about this perspective exactly:

            A couple of quotes from the post:
            “While it might have been written as a treatise of what women could be doing to more of to gain more leadership positions in our organizations, and how we would all benefit from that happening, there was something else that stood out for me: it read as a pretty comprehensive list of things that the men have been doing wrong.”

            “And that’s the problem that runs throughout the book. Despite spending so much time citing research about the benefits of having women in leadership positions, a lot of its recommendations focus on, to put it bluntly, making women more like men, without proper consideration of whether that would actually be a good thing. As I read, I wondered: why is it the women who should be copying the men? Why can’t it be the men who could be well served by taking a page out of an entirely different book: that of the very women Lean In is advising to change? What it is about women that men could emulate to make our workplaces, our families, and our society in general a better place?”

      • Gina

        Mags, I’m completely on board with how you feel; and Class of 1980, I am that woman. For me, I pursued the career I wanted (and the professional school, debt, and entering the work force in my late 20s) precisely because I believed I should reach for the stars, do what I wanted, and everything else would work itself out. Plus, in college, having children sounded oh-so-far-away when I couldn’t even commit to dating one man for more than 3 months.

        Although my fiance and I talk all the time about when we want kids, it seems like such a distant reality with my current job situation. Even when I do inevitably become disillusioned with my stressful job, I can’t really shift careers because my education (and my debt) keeps me tethered to this one. The simple truth is, for a woman who had been taught to think with my brain, it came as a huge surprise to wake up one day and have my biological clock drowning out everything I thought I knew.

        • Class of 1980

          See, what I really believe is that it isn’t entirely the fault of the young women who find themselves in this position. It’s hard to think about something the culture isn’t talking about to students. Yet, those young women will find themselves needing to figure it all out a lot sooner than they think.

          It is the fault of a culture that believes in magical thinking and passes it on to each generation in a set of inspiring memes. I think America is particularly prone to this.

          It reminds me of companies I worked for that believed that bringing in a motivational speaker would make their sales force sell more, instead of analyzing what was actually needed to make sales happen.

          We approach family life backward in our culture. We start with what career you’re going to do and everything is supposed to work around that, except it doesn’t for so many people.

          Instead, the culture should be asking what babies and children truly need first, then asking what parents need to provide this, then asking how careers can be structured to allow family life.

          We’re doing it ass-backward.

          • Gina

            So, so true. I accept full blame for choosing to listen to one narrative over another, but I do think it is a cultural phenomenon as well, ESPECIALLY in America.


            You guys, seriously. From the outside, even as a very close cultural cousin? You guys talk about these realities and I believe you, but I just cannot relate to them.

            (Speaks the lady who got a major promotion while pregnant and then took a year’s mat leave, and is about to leave work early to go grab my kid, just because it’s a slow day.)

          • Julia

            But my life’s purpose is not to fulfill someone else’s needs. And I can’t do that without working, anyway… By prioritizing hypothetical children, we are just replacing the God to whom we sacrifice our lives from capitalism to the survival of the species.

      • Jenny

        I guess I’m a little conflicted. Why should we have to be advising girls differently than boys? Aside from the biology of it, which is a big part, we don’t tell boys/young men to think about familial obligations, so why should we have to do it for girls/ young women? I think the question is, why don’t we have a system in this country that doesn’t punish you for being born the sex that carries the baby. Should we say, well you really should have thought about marrying/having children with the guy in medical school because he’s not going to be able to take any time off when the baby comes? Or should we be asking, why is it that residents/ PhD students/ Gas station attendants/ workers at WalMart don’t have the option of time off to spend with their children in the first x weeks/months?

        Just another aside, but I’d never been in a serious relationship before I met my current fiance. It might have been a little premature to decide that well one day I might meet someone who will want kids, and that I’ll/we’ll be able to make a baby, so I’ll look into how this career might impact that.

        I guess I think we shouldn’t have to differentially advise young men and women, we should have a systems that allows both of them to be somewhat supported in their chosen career path.

        • Class of 1980

          Men don’t get pregnant with all that implies … which is the possibility of being sick during pregnancy and requiring bed rest, recovery from birthing, and time-intensive breastfeeding, etc …

          It goes without saying that our workplaces need change. But that discussion has been going on forever with very little change.

          In light of that, would you really advocate not discussing this with girls? You would leave them clueless in the name of ideology that says they shouldn’t have to think about it? You would rather they arrived at that place in their lives in a complete daze and with limited options because they are now stuck?

          I can’t say I agree with you. Knowledge is power. Let them choose a career with their eyes open from the beginning. At least then if they choose a hard path, they won’t be blindsided.

          And why is it premature to give some thought about the logistics of having a baby just because you aren’t in a relationship? The years go by very fast and reproduction is a very basic reality.

          I think the subject should be discussed with boys and girls both. A lot of young men are in the dark too.

          • Anya

            I was definitely told about these trade offs as I was growing older. My mom didn’t keep the future secret from me. That didn’t help. I didn’t listen. When you’re a child, the nebulous future doesn’t feel so important, and it kind of doesn’t make sense. I’d say I hit 23 before I started taking my life seriously as a thing I had to mange on my own. The truth is, we become aware of these problems as real when they hit us and our friends, and we are going to deal with them without much of a running start until serious systems change. Some systems have already started changing (Thank God) – my husband cooks and cleans, and my dad has no clue how to do either.

        • “We don’t tell boys/young men to think about familial obligations”

          Maybe that’s part of the problem. We should all be encouraged to think about a work/life balance and what sort of life as a whole we want for ourselves growing up. We should talk to both sexes about choosing a career that fits the rest of the life they want. If you want to be a super involved father or mother, with tons of flexibility to go on field trips and make dinner every night (or whatever your priorities are) you want to make sure your career choices allow for that.

          There’s a biological imperative on women where some of this automatically falls on us. It’s unfair to ignore it in education and then have women be blindsided by it by the time they reach those stages of their life. But maybe part of how we fix this is sending similar messages to men about career planning.

          • Pamela

            There is a biological imperative, but I think we forget that we’re not pregnant *forever*. I’m sure it can feel like forever, but I think the average family size is, what, 2 or 3 kids? So, in many (most?) cases, women are pregnant 2 or 3 times.

            Obviously if there are miscarriages or involved fertility treatments that would change things on the health front, but I’m not sure we can prepare for *every* contingency. Plus, how would we even do that?

            Anyway, point being, I don’t think we should plan our careers around pregnancy alone.

          • Class of 1980

            I didn’t think we were talking about planning around pregnancy alone.

            The discussion is about careers that demand you work so many hours that you hardly see your kids.

        • dawn

          I think we should be thinking in terms of alternative paths and seriously consider what we mean by “having it all.” If that meant the career that matches my interests and degree best, the one other people would expect me to pursue, then no, I can’t really “have it all.” And why didn’t I think of that sooner? Well, I did, thanks to my alternative upbringing and my forward-thinking personality…And I have a plan. But I don’t think failure to think ahead is the real issue.
          We buy into set patterns of what it means to “have it all.” We all constantly have choices. Sometimes we have the choice to figure out an alternative path through life. Sometimes we just have to choose how to take what life sets in our paths.

        • Jessica

          THIS. Yes – as we are raising our kids, we should set the expectations for both our sons and daughters that they will have family responsibilities, if they choose to have them, and they will be demanding.

          I love this: “Should we say, well you really should have thought about marrying/having children with the guy in medical school because he’s not going to be able to take any time off when the baby comes? Or should we be asking, why is it that residents/ PhD students/ Gas station attendants/ workers at WalMart don’t have the option of time off to spend with their children in the first x weeks/months?”

          Instead, in my opinion, we can be advocating for family-friendly policies for both genders and all families.

      • Some of us end up in fields where the difficulties are deliberately glossed over. I remember so many people telling me that an academic job would be wonderful for me because I’d have a flexible schedule, coinciding school breaks with my children, etc. Also, most universities and departments market themselves as being super-progressive, especially when it comes to family leave policies, etc.

        The reality is nothing like that. Much like residency, for most women earning a doctorate and then planning to teach at a university in my field (if you enter grad school within 5 years of undergrad), your most fertile years coincide with trying to stay on the normative time clock in your PhD program and then trying to get tenure. While most universities will give you time off to have a baby, it can end up jeopardizing your funding, job search, or tenure review because you then end up with gaps in your CV when you’re competing against men or childless women. There’s also often a lot of unspoken bias against women with kids — i.e. you’re seen as less serious or dedicated — which can make it hard to seek mentorship because you don’t want to be labeled as less intellectual. Also, the reality is that a lot of women drop out of the tenure track when they have children, so that most of tenured women with children have stories about not sleeping for three years, giving up lots of family time, etc. Which… is scary.

        So obviously the system as a whole needs to be reevaluated, and of course there are alternatives to aiming for a tenure at a large R1 university, but in a lot of places those realities are just not acknowledged as necessary or tenable. As someone getting a humanities PhD, it definitely weighs heavily on my mind that I’m spending my time right now training for a career that may not ever materialize, and that there’s a lot of sunk costs if I decide to step off this track, in that I may end up being totally overeducated and underqualified for non-academic work.

        And it’s not like these thoughts didn’t cross my mind before I started grad school, but like others said, I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not I wanted kids, and while I’m currently married, I was single without any prospects when I first decided on my career trajectory and wasn’t going to put that on hold for some hypothetical future spouse who might or might not have materialized. Combined with being told by lots of people, academics and non-academics alike, that this wouldn’t need to be a worry…. well, maybe I know better now, but it’s hard to look at 18-year-old me and say that she didn’t do her due diligence with the information she had available to her at the time.

        • Class of 1980

          “Combined with being told by lots of people, academics and non-academics alike, that this wouldn’t need to be a worry….”

          THIS is the part that has me shaking my head.

          Academics are supposed to be devoted to knowledge, but they misrepresented the truth.

          • Sweeping under the rug is absolutely the right descriptor.

            Ideally you present the whole picture to the 18-year-old. But few insiders want to admit that currently the whole picture is basically something like “If you try to go after this, you can, but it will be really, really hard and you’ll have to give up these things. And by the way, no one’s working to change the way this field/industry operates.”

            It’s the last part that’s really problematic to me. *Because* no one’s bothering to reform things, it means 18-year-olds have to confront these realities (and 28-year-olds who decide the academic life is unsustainable for them get treated like they just weren’t smart/dedicated enough to hack it when really an entire system is working against them).

        • Emily

          Sharon – I just wanted to put out there that my mother in law actually wrote a book about this and you might find it helpful. I don’t want to be promoting anything around here unnecessarily, I hope I’m not breaking any rules, but I want you to know about it in any case – it’s called Professor Mommy.

          I can tell you that for her, she managed to make having four sons and a tenured position at a good school (in economics, not a very lady friendly department) work because my father in law was the stay at home parent. She co-wrote the book with another tenured professor at the same school, whose husband is a professor, and had one kid – she used day care, and goes in to more detail in the book. They go in to a lot of detail about how to handle time as a parent during the PhD and as a professor, and it helped me a lot just reading about some of the logistics of going in to academia. They are very honest about how hard it can be, which is refreshing.

          While I was in college the women in science group pulled together a talk with the women professors in the sciences, and we all got to ask them questions and hear their stories about working in a male-dominated field, and that helped me so much too. I know it can be hard to find those role models, but they are out there and often very willing to talk to you about how they did things.

          • Thanks for the rec, Emily! I’ll definitely check it out. I read “Mama, PhD” a couple years ago and it scared the crap out of me, but your MIL’s book looks like it’s a lot more informative and practical.

      • Carolyn

        I think part of it that I haven’t seen mentioned yet, is I’m damn effing stubborn.

        When I had the option to go to grad school near or away from my then-boyfriend, I was all “NO ONE TELLS ME WHAT TO DO” and moved away. And when we were reunited and married and I thought academia might not be the best path for the elusive work/life balance, again I was like “NO ONE TELLS ME WHAT I CAN’T DO” and started a post-doc at a high-tiered university. And now that babies are kind of on the table, and I look around and have no female role models, I’m still not willing to admit that maybe my stubbornness is unsustainable.

        So even if (probably *especially if*) Class of 1980 had sat me down and said this might not work for me forever, I’d probably be like “I’LL SHOW YOU WHAT I CAN AND CAN’T DO!”

        • I mean, it’s not a coincidence that academic research attracts a ton of people whose basic drive in life is “Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” right? Nothing has ever been discovered because someone said, “Oh, you’re right, I guess I shouldn’t try to break the mold.” ;)

        • Class of 1980

          Carolyn, I would hope that if I sat you down it would have been a two-sided conversation … more of an exploration of the industry you were interested in.

          Not … “Listen kid, you can’t do this thing.” ;)

        • Jessica

          Go you, Carolyn. Way to go for your dreams, and let things work themselves out.

          Caveat that I don’t have kids but… I think more women need to be willing to say “No one tells me what to do,” and just do it.

          I too am in a place where I now do not see many women, much less women with children around me. But that just makes me more committed to push through these barriers. So our baby girls don’t have to in 25 years.

      • Holly

        I’m a bit late to comment, but I wanted to chime in as someone who DID make my career decisions around having kids. And….10 years later, has yet to meet said, planned around, kid. (Or husband, for that matter…started reading this when I was pre-engaged…kept reading after our breakup). And here’s what I think about this: why should you plan your whole career around a baby who will be a baby for 1 year, when you’re going to work for 40 years? We should push society to change so that residents can take maternity leave, not push women to not be doctors because they might want to have kids some day. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to ramp my career up and make my job a fun, challenging, and fulfilling aspect of my life; without it the extra 10 years of life not going according to plan A would have been even more painful. I wouldn’t want to discourage 18 year olds away from pre-med because they might (or might not) have a child at 28.

    • Marina

      One of the things that makes me feel like I “have it all” is that I don’t want to spend all of my time with my child. (Or even “substantial amounts”? I probably spend 3 hours with her on weekdays, is that substantial?) The standard in our society is that men can work full time and be great dads, but somehow women who work full time are supposedly sacrificing their personal life and can’t possibly be good parents. Granted, I have a 40-45 hour/week job, not a 60+ hour/week job. But I don’t think that kind of job is all that uncommon.

      The other thing that helps is that I don’t have to “have it all” right now. I like my job, but I don’t love it. When I’m not working to support a family any more, I intend to change careers to what I consider my professional “calling”. I’ll have a 10-20 year career in that area instead of a 40 year career. My dad, again, is my model in this area. Since my brother and I moved out, he’s spent a lot of time playing music semi-professionally, something he chose not to try to do to make a living when we were young.

      I don’t know if that helps with your particular situation at all. It does sound like your personal situation really is a rock and hard place between what you would like to do professionally, and how you would like to be a parent. But I do think it’s frequently possible to work around what society tells us our only options are… I hope you find something that works for you.

      • Marina – I’m just coming to that conclusion too, that 3 hours is a nice evening amount of time with my toddler. (Toddlers, man. Not loving this phase.) I’m glad I am not alone.

  • I love hearing different perspectives on how early motherhood shakes out for people. For me it was a totally different scenario with post-partum depression, irrational clinging to my baby and with all that my identity DID become “mom.” But that was okay. I think that’s the thing I tell all moms, no matter what, it’s okay.

    Now, I was basically raised by wolves, so I am still (2 years in) very consumed with being an over-achiever mom. And again, that’s okay. My career is on track and I love it. My son is my favorite human being on the face of the planet with his father a close second :) . For me though, I have chosen – very consciously – to make my son priority #1. That said, I’m still Sara and he’s still Duncan. Separate identities, but a shared goal of raising a human that doesn’t act like a jerk. I do miss him so much when we’re apart unless it’s one of those days when he thinks it’s hilarious to rip my glasses off my face or kick me for no good reason. On those days I basically let him just tuck and roll out of the car in front of the daycare. (obvs kidding)

    • meg

      Tuck and roll, kid. Tuck and roll.

      I wouldn’t say my kid isn’t #1. I think, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel ordered. He’s just super important. Because he’s awesome. YAY. (And yeah, having had partum depression, you know I know that drill, it just hit me in a different order.)

      • If I don’t establish a hierarchy, then I get all confused and think I like the cat. :)

        • True Life: Sometimes I legitimately worry about if I will end up liking my pets more than my (imaginary future) kids.

          • Some days I like my imaginary pet more than my kid, so.

          • meg

            I love you Morgan. Just for that sentence construction.

          • A friend told me once: I love my kid(s) more than life but it still doesn’t beat my cats. You know how it is.

            I don’t yet, but I bet I will.

  • “I just thought, on some level, that my entire life would change and I would have to give up all of the stuff that mattered. That was not my conscious philosophy, but I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to avoid it. And that has just one hundred percent not been true.”

    “There is this idea that you can’t be happy as a mother unless motherhood consumes you, so you’re either going to be really unhappy or you’re going to lose yourself. And I just found that not to be true.”

    Meg, thank you. Thank you for opening up this part of yourself and for being awesome. These are just some of my overarching fears/questions/concerns about being a mother, and to hear an articulate, intelligent, independent, woman talk about how motherhood has affected her has really been helpful and eye-opening.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • One of the things I’m worried about is support. I don’t trust my family of origin with any potential future kids, because they’re messed up in a lot of ways and very irresponsible. Plus there’s the fact that we may, before we have kids, end up moving away from our support network.

    • meg

      Paid support is good support. Let it be said. Amen.

      • But what happens if one can’t afford paid support?

        • meg

          This is what I talked about in the interview. I think that support is really key, and hopefully you can find a way to have support one way or another. Some people use paid support, some people have totally unpaid support, some people have a mix. (We have paid daycare, but rarely pay for babysitters, because the kiddo has a big circle of people around him who want to spend time with him). There are so many factors at play here.

          The issue really is that a lot of communal society has broken down in the past however many decades. We’re encouraged live our lives without communities of family or religion or friends around us, for better or for worse. And that gets tricky with kids, because biologically we’re built to have kids in community.

          Obviously parents go it alone all the time. It’s hard, and they deserve a ton of respect. It’s not something I can speak to in the first person, however.

        • Than you make other mom friends and trade off babysitting. I didn’t make many mom friends, but I made a couple – enough for an occasional night out, and as someone to lean on. Leaving one support system doesn’t mean you don’t get a chance to make another. I found it easier to make friends with other new moms than I ever did the “normal” way, in my city.

        • Marina

          I’m sure this varies depending on where you live, but I’ve discovered this kind of thriving semi-underground network in my city of desperate new parents. There are clothing swaps, there are childcare swaps, there are meetup groups, there are meal trains… there are hundreds of other parents who are as overwhelmed and as desperate to find other overwhelmed parents as I am.

    • Paid support is awesome. My daycare provider is one of my favorite people. We have cried to each other, and we are bonded forever in our mutual love of H.

  • Carbon Girl

    Thanks for such a refreshingly honest and open interview about motherhood. We want to have a baby soon (in a year or so) and one thing that really scares me is not having a support system. We just moved to the bay area (our family is on the east coast) four months ago and are having trouble finding friends. I feel like we have acquaintances, but no good friends. It is so hard because we moved away from this amazing friend community and we miss them all a ton. We have always lived in smaller cities and towns and here there are 7 million people, so its like why would anyone be friends with us? Anyways, I digress. I just wonder if this can be done without that support system.

    • meg

      Paid support is good. I also want to say, “Join a church!” but you know, that is NOT something that works for everyone, it’s just how I was raised. (Church as community, less than church as anything else).

      But also, take a birth class. That was great for us to get to know new parents. Loving Arms birth class in East Bay, HUGE thumbs up.

    • I’m in the Bay Area! I’ll be your friend!

      It kinda sucks, but 4 months out here is NOTHING. I think it took us about a year to feel like we had friends, and it wasn’t until about a year and a half in that I felt like I had any *good* friends. (And that’s the timeline even with a church community, like Meg mentioned!) We also moved here from the East Coast, family, and an incredibly tight-knit group of friends, so the change was really jarring. I’m not saying this to scare or you’ll-seeee you, just wanted to affirm that it can be a hard area to develop deep friendships quickly and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you if at 4 months you feel you’re still at acquaintance stage with everyone you’ve met! It just takes time.

      And there’s no shame with paid help. It’s kinda like weddings, right? You see the beautiful handmade bloggy weddings and start thinking, “Oh my God, my friends hate me! No one’s baking my cake or taking my photos or offering to sew my dress! I have no friends!!!” when the reality may be that your friends totally love you but a) they’re all accountants, or b) they all live 500 miles away.

      To end — *hugs* I know it’s really hard and I hope you can find your people soon!

      • Remy

        Man, I am STILL fighting that voice.

      • I’m in the Bay Area, can I join in the being of friends? I’ve been here … 3+ years now and made maybe 2 friends I rarely see because I spent most of that time working.

        We may think about kids in the next year or so (one variable: how viable my job is) and I’ve been wondering if we have enough to hire the support we need because we have no family here and y’know, I didn’t make friends and how sucky would we be to make friends just because we were having kids soon and needed a support group?
        Only, I guess, as you say Sharon, it’s like weddings. Sometimes you get the support you need when and where you least expect it!

  • NB

    Meg: If you never write another word about being a mom, I hope that you know that the very act of you-being-you, out there in the world, making thoughtful choices and being a parent without losing your identity, is the thing that gets my breathing back to normal when I’m struck with the terror of “What If I Lose My ME?!”

    Thank you, once again, for being sensible, thoughtful, you (whether you write about the parenting side or not).

  • What about transitions outside of baby? Meg, in all of her incredible-ness, gets to love baby and career.
    How do you find solace if you are in the middle of a shift? Does it kick in the door for the “motherhood-only” narrative a little more?

    Has anyone had any experience kick-starting (or re-starting) their career around the same time they are having baby?

    Lovey and I are definitely thinking married-travel-baby (if possible!) but I am not only completely unhappy with my career but have absolutely no idea what the future holds in terms of fulfilling work. All I know is that, for me, not working is probably off the table. Kind of unequivocal.

    Of course the easy answer is “just let it all happen” but I get the sense that if there is nothing to love about your work, the likelihood that you will find yourself not working is much higher and this might reinforce the horror stories about losing the whole-ness of “self.”

    Hope this doesn’t come out as self-absorbed given that I’m not even in the mom-realm. But it’s kind of an honest fear.

    • meg

      David switched jobs seven weeks after the kid was born. It was tricky, but it worked. By which I mean to say, things that need to happen (like, you really need them deep down) tend to happen. Because you move heaven and earth to make it work.

      • I have a similar concern. I have it in my head that I have to be completely self-employed/have a successful business before I grow a human.

        I’m scared that I need to Figure It All Out beforehand and I won’t be able to multitask raising a baby and starting up a business.

        Is it legitimate to want to have a comfortable financial/business foundation, or is it just as easy/difficult to start up a business post baby?

        • meg

          I think you grow a human when you grow a human, and you figure the rest out. I know that sounds overly simple, but I think it’s basically how it works…

          • Well, that’s nice to hear. I definitely prefer that scenario to the one in my head (figure it ALL out right now or be doomed for failure)

          • KM

            I so desperately wish that my wife and I could just “grow a human when you grow a human, and you figure the rest out.”

            We are struggling with the stress we feel to “get all the ducks in a row” before we commit to starting a family when you actually have to commit to intentionally taking steps to start a family that will involve sperm donors and clinics and deciding just how much “other” we can stand to involve in the process of making a little person between us.

            Trying to remember the damn ducks are wily and just get on with it.

          • meg

            Yes. I TOTALLY get that it’s not always as easy as growing a human. I think what I meant was, when one decides it’s time to… acquire… a human? One just throws oneself into the process, and somehow corrals those ducks one way or the other.

    • I started pushing hard for a MAJOR change at work, just before we started to try to conceive. I worked my ass off for months to show that I was capable of this new role. It became on-paper official 2 months before my baby was born. I then took a year of mat leave, and came back full steam in to the new role.

      Being pregnant, and knowing that I didn’t want to be an admin forever, and that now was the time to lean in? It made me work harder. I left basically as an admin assistant, and came back as an engineering technician – as I said, a pretty big shift. Something about pregnancy really pushed me to make my life better, in ways I can’t quite describe. And don’t let me pretend it was easy – I was on at least Plan H, as Plans A-G had fallen through. I got there through a combo of luck, good timing, hard work, identifying things that needed to be done and doing them, making contacts, finding a mentor, and having multiple uncomfortable conversations with my boss where I laid out my case for change. It didn’t just happen – I worked my ass off to make it happen.

      And I won’t tell you that I want to be a tech for the next 30 years. It’s just … the next step. It’s more interesting than what I did before, and I enjoy my job and my coworkers and the new challenges and the learnings. I don’t love it, but I love that I go home at the end of the day and don’t have to think about work and I really love that it pays for vacations and fancy coffee and the rest of the things that I love about life.

      Tl;dr: you can change your career even mid pregnancy. You don’t have to love your job to love your life. At minimum mostly liking your job is good for your happiness.

      • Morgan-
        “You don’t have to love your job to love your life.” I think you really just honed right in on it.

        That complete other end of the spectrum: definition by what we do, accomplish, achieve, etc., throws a disparity in the conversation that we don’t address when we talk about having children.
        The constant pressure for “achievement” can be so distorting that it mangles our own understanding of ourselves or what we want.

        • It’s a very cultural thing. I’m Canadian, and work in oil and gas, and the culture is very much that life comes first. As an outsider, the American drive for 60+ hour work weeks and ambition as paramount and all that? It’s weird, and looks unpleasant and unhealthy for having any real work life balance. I know very few people who are truly passionate at their jobs, but the vast majority overall love their lives. I’ll take that happier balance any day.

          • Shiri

            God, this made me want to live in Canada. Will you(r country) have me?

          • Class of 1980

            Yes, yes, yes.

            It’s all in our heads. Even if we don’t believe it, we get put between a rock and a hard place because the heads around us are convinced working too much is the way to live.

    • Jennie

      Also curious and worried about career changes after having a baby. I enjoy what I do now, but I work an on-call and often overnight schedule – something I don’t want to do forever (whether I have babies or not). My hope is to go back to school and get a daytime job after we have a baby.

      Things I try to remind myself of – my mom got her PhD while working full time and having 2 kids (it took her 11 years but she did it!). Having a baby can be a good excuse to leave a career/job that isn’t a good fit and if you have the desire or requirement of working, you can find something better.

      But I’m not a parent yet so – any parents out there who have had the baby and career transition around the same time?

      • Class of 1980

        One of my friends got her masters while she was staying home after her second baby. That got her the career she always wanted, as she was totally unsuited to her bachelor degree.

  • SUPPORT!!! This was so hard for us to figure out. We don’t have family near by, which resulted in a ton of guilt trips from them and questions about how we were going to survive. “If you just lived nearby…” Our friends are awesome, but most don’t have kids and won’t. Those that have kids fell off the face of the planet after the kids arrived, so weren’t the best examples in the how not to lose yourself department. The friends without kids help remind us to get out, still invite us, and don’t mind us bringing the wee man along, but that only gets you so far. I’ve had a hard time finding babysitters, paid ones no less, because we don’t many people with kids, and those we do are unwilling to share.

    I’m in the process of setting up a babysitting co-op, free sitters! other families! connections to my community! It’s taken some time, but we’re starting to get the support we really need in place. It helps so much. Parenthood felt all consuming, but I realize that is more because we weren’t getting enough breaks. I feel like a human when I get a break.

    Thanks for all of this Meg. It, and you, are full of awesome.

    • Remy

      I would love to know more about the co-op set-up process. I just remembered that when I was small (when my parents were a bit older than I am now, and had only one grandparent within drop-off distance, and pretty much no friends with kids), I spent time at the playground with a co-op group. I bet my parents went through some of the same conflicts in trying to make contact with a larger support system of families. But it would be great to hear about your experience, much closer to when I’m planning on raising kids. Y’know, ’cause there’s the Internet now.

  • Ellara

    Lovely article! However, since one of my big reasons not to have kids is vanity I want to say this: it’s true we are going to get old and change anyway, but it is probably going to be a slower change than pregnancy. Also, think of all the time, money and effort goes into parenting a child: the same time, money and effort I decided to invest in my body (this means expensive cosmetic treatments, lots of time in the gym, money to afford organic food and plastic surgery). I think all women are beautiful, baby or not, but I want to invest all my free time and energy into making myself beautiful (according to my standards, which are quite different from the rest of the world). I will try to age as gracefully as possible, and I didn’t panic when wrinkles and white hair started to appear, I simply invested money and effort into making them less noticeable. It’s just a matter of priorities, and I think vanity can be for some people as a good motivation than children for others.

    • I just wanted to add that although it may be an accelerated change, to be fair, some bodies change for the better. As in, my boobs are now a C cup instead of A, and my thighs are thinner somehow. (what?!) That’s pretty nice.

      Also, it seems the more fit you are pre-pregnancy, the more quickly your body bounces back. Yes, there is less time to work out, but I have made it priority and currently work out 5 times a week. I had lost my baby weight through just walking and breastfeeding, but went back to the gym for strength and posture.

      Stretchmarks though… Personally, I did not get stretch marks, except for my boobs and those faded quickly, but those seem to be a total crapshoot. My sister had none her first time and now has tiger stripes from her second.

      • Class of 1980

        It is soooo individual. Depends on your genes, your skin type, your body type.

        My mom had three kids in her twenties, breastfed, and still had perky breasts in her forties. One of her friends did the same and said she looked like something out of National Geographic.

        Most people are probably somewhere in between. ;)

  • The first two months for us were hard in a sleep deprived and we really hope she’s stops crying so much sort of way. For a few weeks there my husband only got to see cranky baby except on the weekends so I tried to make a daytime swing by his work so he had some time with her outside of evening crying.

    But in some ways the last month has been really hard too. Not in the same way for sure. We actually felt like we’ve been getting decent sleep except for some nights where it doesn’t happen from about a month onward because we’ve slept with her all along. And early on we’d go to sleep when she went to sleep. That meant zero time alone but it’s what allowed the sleep we needed which was more important for us then (priorities). But recently we’ve started to come up against expectations and reality. She doesn’t sleep in her crib for anything and I sometimes feel bad about that. Like I’ve failed as a mother because she’s six months old and much younger babies do. And she’s still in bed with us with no plans to mover her, I’ve started lobbying for a bigger bed (ours is a double) instead of having her spend nights in her crib. And she also doesn’t really take the bottle. Our philosophy has mostly been to do what feels right at the moment instead of concentrating on getting her to do something because in the future we’ll want her to do it. So when she was little and I felt a really intense need to cuddle her all the time, that’s what I did. So this last month has been full of me feeling guilty because she doesn’t do these things. Which is totally silly but I haven’t been able to get beyond it yet.

    • My kid slept in a bassinet at the foot of our bed for 7 solid months. (Cosleeping didn’t work for us, her nursery was on another floor and I am lazy in the middle night.) When we were all ready for it, she took to the crib really easily (we started with naps). My kid never took a bottle, and can’t figure out sippy cups, but is fine with drinking from a straw. At 13 months, she’s just getting a handle on cups, and will never have had more than a handful of mostly unsuccessful meals from a bottle.

      None of this matters even a little bit. As long as the baby’s happy and you’re getting enough sleep and she’s getting enough to eat? THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS. She will sleep on her own before collage, and you’re supposed to stop using a bottle at a year anyway. This is one of those things that feels intensely problematic while you’re in it, and fades as soon as it’s passed. (See my blog post about my kid’s weight. I’m super stressed now, but even as I write about it, I know that provided she doesn’t have to be hospitalized, this will pass and we will all be fine eventually. That doesn’t make it any less stressful in the short time, I know.)

      Motherhood guilt is intense and weird.

      • Thanks for the reassurance, Morgan! And hugs to you for your moment of stress.

        She is getting enough food for sure and save for the nights when she decides to feed something like six times and I’m ready to kick her out of bed we do generally get enough sleep. She’s a super happy baby so I try to have that reassure me that we are indeed doing something (or more than something) right.

        • One More Sara

          Ugh, I hate to try to fix your problem for you, but my sister had trouble transitioning her kid out of her co-sleeper/bassinet thing to the crib. Her pediatrician explained it like this. Would you be able to sleep very well if you had a fresh hot chocolate cake (or a nice plate of steamy hot bacon. I always wake up at the smell of bacon.) sitting right next to your bed? Well (if you are breastfeeding), you are a living breathing chocolate cake/plate of bacon. You literally smell like dinner (or whatever babies call those meals at 1, 3, 5am). So if you are finding frequent night feedings to be a real problem, it may be worth a few bad nights to try to move baby to crib. Again, I truly believe *you* know what’s best for *your* own baby, so please disregard this tidbit if you disagree.

    • meg

      Kids are just DIFFERENT. Mine is pretty easy in a lot of ways, but around eating? My LORD. A parent of a similar aged child suggested last weekend that we just “cut three feedings a night down to two,” which was about the funniest thing anyone’s ever said to me. Like I was, you know, calling the shots on the feedings. I was like “Great, I’ll just stop the earth from turning while I’m at it.” I could feel like a failure because he is not even close to sleeping through the night, but WHY? Instead, I try to focus on the other stuff. We sleep trained him to put himself down at night, and now he’s a pro, yay! He’s good in a crib, yay! Whatever, the point is, different babies are good and bad at different things, like people.

      And we totally got a king sized bed.

      • Class of 1980

        And your baby isn’t “bad” about feeding. Bodies are not identical and his body obviously gets hungry sooner and needs more frequent feedings at this point.

        Basically, they were advising you to let him be hungry and tough luck for him. Um, that’s both cruel and stupid.

        Boy, that would do wonders for his emotional development!

        • Yeah, and speaking of emotional development – even if those nighttime feedings are “just” for comfort. Imagine how sad you’d be if your parents ignored you when you were super sad from a bad dream or whatever.
          (I’m pretty sure at this point my ladybaby is hungry like once a night, and having bad dreams the rest of the time.)

          • Class of 1980

            I know!

            Babies are developmentally working out trust and bonding issues. What a terrible message it sends them to be ignored. Those are the babies that become apathetic as a self-defense mechanism.

          • meg

            Though let me just say: teaching him to fall asleep on his own at night was a little painful, but I feel like we gave him SUCH a valuable skill (it really worked, and now he’s a little more independent, happier guy).

          • meg

            (Though I have a strict rule that I always explain exactly what’s going on, and what the plan is to him. It’s only fair.)

          • Class of 1980

            I remember a friend telling me all the details of teaching her first baby how to fall asleep on her own. I think she read up on how to do it the least painful way.

      • Cut night feedings… yeah. Right. Hahaha! At almost 2, H rarely sleeps through the night (technically, 6 hrs of sleep), but at least people have stopped asking about it.

        Our king size bed is the best though.

    • mmouse

      I feel like things aren’t a problem until they become a problem. We are doing part-time cosleeping. Our son starts off in his crib, we go to bed, then one of us brings him into our bed after his first wake-up. He’s happy and we’re happy (mostly, since who wouldn’t love less night wakings?).

      I think parenting is full of compromises and many people take personal offense to people having different priorities. In our sleep situation, everyone is getting something they want/need. My husband gets time alone with me in bed, I get to nurse lying down in a warm bed, and our son gets snuggles, milk, and some independent sleep practice. Somehow, my MIL thinks that we’re doing it “wrong” and if we left him in his bed he would learn to sleep all night. She just doesn’t understand that I don’t care if he sleeps all night. I refuse to feel guilty about someone else’s hang-ups.

    • Marina

      One of the big things that helped me was remembering that you are not alone! There are other babies like yours! The downside of the internet is that it’s so easy to look up when babies are “supposed” to do things, but the upside is that it’s also easy to find stories of babies EXACTLY LIKE YOURS on their own damn schedule.

  • amigacara

    Thank you so much!! Everything here is SO HELPFUL!!!

  • Mary

    Thank you Meg and Maddie for doing these interviews. The timing for me was incredibly appropriate as I’m very early in my pregnancy and fluctating between incredibly hapy and insanely terrified about how I’m going to handle a baby and a job that I love that requires international travel. So thank you, thank you for sharing your experiences Meg!!

  • This is a great series, thanks Meg and Maddie.

    I realized that I too toss off the ‘bad mom’ comment – rarely, but still – in social settings. I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop doing that. I’m the first of my friends to have a baby, so I do feel some of the role model pressure, and I certainly don’t want to accidentally model that behavior!

    • It’s like when women sit around and talk shit about themselves, right? “Oh, I’m so fat, I hate my nose,” or whatever. It’s annoying, and I refuse to play along. I’m now going to refuse to play along to the bad mom thing, which I now realize is literally the exact same phenomenon.

      • Sarah E

        Yes! I can’t stand that talk! “Oh, I’m such an idiot.” “Ugh, I hate my life.” Words have power. Use the ones you want to resonate.

        • Also, as Caitlin Moran encourages asking: are the men doing it? Just like I don’t hear a lot of men engaging in that insult yourself contest women so often have (“My pores are too big. My shoulders are weird. I’m too fat. I’m too skinny. Etc.”) I don’t hear many men insulting their skills as a father.

    • mmouse

      I’ve definitely said the “bad mom” stuff, but only in private to my husband and never facetiously. I said it yesterday when I realized the gram crackers my 7 month old son was eating had honey in them. What kind of mom doesn’t check ingredients for items that could give your child botulism and cause certain death?! (I need an exaggeration font).

      Anyway, I think even in private, in moments of doubt and uncertainty it’s harmful to use the “bad mom” card. Megs right about being the only mom. I’m all my son has got and I need to focus on what we’re doing right, not what I’m doing “wrong”.

  • Anne

    Thank you so much for this interview. Good for you for keeping your boundaries between your identity as a mother and your separate professional identity. That makes a lot of sense. So appreciate all of your thoughts!

  • I just discovered the website Such a simple concept that people already do in community, but having email reminders is SO NICE. My new-parent friends didn’t cook for the first month and it did not involve phone calls or begging, just sending this link around our circle of friends beforehand. I cannot recommend enough! I was so so so thrilled to have an easy and tangible way to help them that didn’t involve the phrase, “Let me know what I can do…”

    Who doesn’t want meals delivered to their door?!?

    • meg

      Yup. This is exactly what our friends did for us.

      • I wondered! Glad to hear it. It obviously could be managed any number of ways, I just love the concept so much I have started telling everyone I see.

        Also, thanks for the wonderful interview posts – I fully respect that you are giving advice as a human to other humans, not as an expert or a mom or even as a woman, but as a human :) THAT’s feminism!

  • Thanks so much, Meg, for sharing your experiences so far and for opening up about your private life. I am always glad to hear about other women having babies and not feeling like their identity has completely transformed. My daughter just turned two and even though I and others identify myself on the surface as a Stay-at-Home Mama, deep in the marrow of my bones, I don’t feel any different.

    I did not experience any massive internal transformation. Things changed, yes. The way I spent my days changed, but I didn’t feel any major SHIFT. I am more patient. I have gotten more conscious about reining in my naturally slobby tendencies (nothing like a crawling baby putting EVERYTHING in their mouth to change things). I more efficient with my time. I am less judgemental of other’s parenting choices. But, I still really feel like just like little ole ME.

    My heart didn’t explode into a million pieces when she was born. The way I see the world didn’t change. The amount of compassion I feel for other people didn’t change (maybe because I have always been the type to weep at Hallmark commericals and sad newpaper articles). My ability to sit in the grass and watch the ants march back and forth for 1/2 hr hasn’t changed (although, I do this much more frequently now that I have a kid).

    I agree 100% about the importance of having a Support System (whether it be paid or not). My husband and I have been incredibly lucky to have had a tremendous amount of support from both sets of Grand-parents. My husband is Indian and we did the whole traditional “living with his family” thing for the first year of our marriage (which included our daughter’s first 5 months). My daughter and I go and stay at my parents’ house for a few days during the middle of the week, twice a month. Those 5-6 nights of uninterrupted sleep helped me survive dealing with a very “sleep-challenged” child. Support is essential!!!!

    I am currently 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant with our second child. We are planning on using Meal Train, which is a free site that helps you organize your friends and family who want to help with meals after you’ve had a baby. I’m excited to see how it turns out!

    The part about having a firmly established egalitarian relationship BEFORE you have a baby is also very, very important. Honestly, the most difficult part of the last two years (plus the 10 months of my pregnancy) has been the fact that my husband has had a tremendous amount of growing up to…he’s 5 years younger and was very traditionally Indian, in that he had never lived on his own before marrying me. A surprise pregnancy after 6 months of dating definitely rocked our worlds. Lesson Learned. Ironing out Living Together and Marriage issues BEFORE getting pregnant definitely makes the transition to Motherhood much more smoother. :)

    Thanks again for sharing and for beginning this dialogue!

  • Hills

    Loved reading this but wanted to add one tiny thing. In the same way that our bodies experience pregnancy, delivery, postpartum hormones, etc. differently, that’s also true for losing weight, whether you’re breast feeding/pumping or not.

    I think it’s one of those truism’s that’s not entirely true, but can be damaging for women to hear both during and after pregnancy. If you can’t breastfeed, you feel doomed to hold onto the baby weight. Or you assume during pregnancy that the weight will go away without work simply because you plan to breastfeed. When instead how your body reacts or rebounds is anyone’s guess. (The science of it all is similar I think to the way some women gain weight on birth control and others lose it… thank you, hormones.)

    It’s a small point for such a large topic, but for me, it’s another example of how we’re told a narrative of what pregnancy/motherhood will be like that makes women feel less normal when the narrative doesn’t match their experiences.

    • LM

      Thanks so much for your comment here – you phrased it better than I could have. I totally bought into the “breastfeed and the weight will fall off” mantra during pregnancy, which turned out not to be true at all for me. It still bums me out when I hear people talk about it, since I have all of these beautiful clothes my closet that I cannot wear and literally two pair of pants that fit right now.

      • And I lost all the weight right away, possibly due to breastfeeding, but 14 months later still can’t fit in to 97% of my shirts due to the booobz. And despite weighing less than I did pre-pregnancy, I’m a pants size bigger because my hips have literally changed.

        There is no “normal path” in post-partum bodies.

  • April

    LOVE this! Thank you, Meg! It DOES take a village, for sure. My mom left us with the neighbors, church people, relatives – whoever was available – so that she could get shit done. And I remember what fun it was for my sibs and I to hang out with our extended community of caretakers. I will be forever grateful for Mrs. Ballestrasse, an elderly neighbor who lived the next block over from us when I was growing up, who taught my sister and I how to make pie crust. I make a wicked pie crust to this day…

    My husband and I do not have children nor any plans to have them, but we adore our friends’ kids and offer to babysit regularly. A large part of this is mainly due to my own obsessive LOVE for tiny babies and small children…but still – it’s super fun, super easy (surprise!) and our friends super love us when we show up at their houses with food and smiles and offer to wrangle babies while they go to a restaurant for an hour or two.

  • efletch

    Thank you thank you. The last paragraph was powerful for me. I am expecting my baby in six weeks, and the cultural narrative around me has either been… you will be so miserable when you come back to work, or you will be so anxious to get back to work. I am lucky enough to really love my job and to find it very fulfilling, so does this mean I won’t find motherhood fulfilling? While I can’t say yet because I’m not there yet I’m assuming that loving my baby won’t make me hate my job. This narrative that in order to be a “good mother” you have to sacrifice everything to your baby is really damaging. And it’s not even the people around me judging me that is hard it’s the little voice inside judging that sucks. Thank you for talking about your experience it’s been very refreshing and encouraging!

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